PRACTICAL
Yachting World|June 2021
ENERGY OBSERVER • CROSSING THE NORTH SEA • HANDLE BIG BREEZE UPWIND
WILL BRUTON

SPECIAL REPORT

WILL BRUTON ON VIRTUAL REALITY SEASICKNESS RELIEF

Charles Darwin gave a warning to any of his readers tempted to romanticise sailing, declaring in The Voyage of the Beagle “if a person suffer much from seasickness, let him weight it heavily in the balance: it is no trifling evil which may be cured within a week.”

But while Darwin’s theory of evolution became established science, what causes seasickness still remains fiercely debated. What’s more, nothing invented so far has managed to work universally to relieve the symptoms, and drug-based treatments are renowned for their side effects. So even professional sailors learn to live with the debilitating condition rather than overcome it for good. In the Volvo Ocean Race there have been multiple instances of over half a professional crew being unwell at the same time.

New Zealand start-up See-Level promises to help sailors overcome symptoms of seasickness by bringing together movement sensor technology and virtual reality. Founder Dudley Jackson, originally from the Isle of Wight, started the business after being forced to call off his own circumnavigation plans. “I'd bought the boat, got ready over a number of years and was excited to cross oceans,” he explains. But overcome by seasickness as soon as he was offshore, Dudley returned to New Zealand disappointed, turning to his background in IT to find a solution.

Virtual reality had an awkward start in the consumer electronics market when it first became available to computer gamers around five years ago, and videos on YouTube show first-timer users crashing into furniture, having lost all sense of spatial awareness outside the headset. Even latest generation VR games can be disorientating, and for many people induce motion sickness. But it is this powerful feeling of being somewhere else that Dudley hopes to capitalise on, temporarily extracting the wearer from their real environment.

Jackson was introduced to VR gaming by his son. “I was shocked at how quickly I got motion sickness,” he recalls. But it raised the question: “If virtual reality can make me sick, could it remove seasickness just as quickly? And the answer is: yes.”

A virtual reality headset provides 360° immersion in a virtual environment, which, combined with sound, effectively seals out the real world. If you haven’t used one before, the experience is both a little strange and impressive. Look up, down or behind you and the world you're immersed in is continuous.

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